N44m Bribery Scandal Rocks House Committee

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Arunma Oteh

Arunma Oteh

The probe of the role of regulatory agencies in the crash of the Nigerian capital market assumed a dramatic twist Thursday as the Director General, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Aruma Oteh, accused the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market of demanding N44 million from the regulatory agency.

Meanwhile, the market capitalisation of equities on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) yesterday suffered its heaviest decline this year as most investors turned their focus on the public hearing on the capital market by the House of Representatives.

The drama in the House began just as the probe panel was settling down to the third day of its business.

Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market, Hon. Herman Hembe, motioned to the SEC boss to take her place at the “dock” and immediately, she raised a point of order, alleging bias and accusing the panel of not giving her fair hearing on the issues in contention since the investigation began on Tuesday.

Oteh alleged that the committee demanded the money as the agency’s contribution towards funding the public hearing.

According to her, the demand came in two tranches of N39 million two weeks to the public hearing and N5 million 24 hours to the commencement of the investigation.

She claimed that her refusal to part with the money appeared to have angered members of the panel and resulted in their seeming bias against her in the conduct of the investigations.

Oteh also alleged that Hembe had last year collected from SEC an undisclosed amount of money and a business class ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference, but said that Hembe neither made the trip nor returned the money.

Oteh has been under fire since the investigation began particularly when the probe delved into some extraneous issues relating to her recruitment, conditions of service, qualification, competence and personal integrity.

She said: “This has been a kangaroo court. Not even in Idi Amin’s Uganda did we have this type of public hearing. None of the documents before the committee came formally from SEC and this is of great concern to me. I do not think that it is appropriate for you to have gathered information from the SEC without even asking us to verify that information, to respond to those issues that you already made the judgement that you made yesterday.

“You had implied that as a regulator, that by having people on secondment from the private sector, it could undermine the capacity of the regulatory functions of the commission. In asking the SEC to contribute N39 million for this public hearing, don’t you think that you are undermining your capacity to carry out your duties?

“When I took this job, I was warned that when you fight corruption, it will fight back but I did not know that the fight would come from the House Committee on Capital Market.”

However, these allegations did not deter the panel from continuing with the investigation as the lawmakers also raised counter allegations bordering on poor corporate governance as well as breach of government policy on monetisation of public procurement under her watch.

Hembe dismissed the allegations, stressing that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) should be able to investigate such allegations and bring anyone found wanting to book.

“The House cannot be said to be unfair. The public is also watching. If what I am doing is because of the fact that I have collected money from SEC to go on overseas trip to study and I didn’t go, the public will take note. But if it is the wish of members of the committee that I respond to the issues, I will go ahead and respond to the issues. I will respond to the issues as much as I can.

“I hope this is not a ploy to distract us from achieving the main objectives of this public hearing. Please let this not be a ploy to distract us from achieving the main objective of this hearing. I believe that we have the representatives of the ICPC and the EFCC with us. The issue of corruption or no corruption we should put it aside. They are here and they will write their report. I think we should concentrate on the major issue here. Let’s see how we can forge ahead with the hearing and achieve something before the end of the day,” Hembe said.

Thursday, the market capitalisation dipped by N131 billion to close at N6.519 trillion, while Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) All-share Index depreciated by 1.9 per cent to close lower at 20,658.28.

The 1.9 per cent dip in the index has brought the year-to-date (YTD) performance of the market to negative 0.35 per cent. The market had recovered with a YTD growth of about 1.74 per cent last week before the market probe began.

Before Thursday, the market had shed N49 billion the previous day, a development some market operators had linked to the fact that many investors were holding on to their investments as they watch the proceedings at the on-going probe of the crisis that hit the nation’s capital market since 2008.

The probe, according to the House of Representatives, is intended to address some of the issues discouraging many investors from returning to the market.

Heavy weight stocks such as Dangote Cement Plc, Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc, Total Nigeria Plc and leading banks dominated the 22 price losers.

Specifically, Total Nigeria Plc led the price losers with N8.57 to close at N162.91, trailed by Dangote Cement Plc, which shed N4.67 to close at N111.33 per share. Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc depreciated by N2.90 to close at N55.10 per share among others.

On the other hand, Guinness Nigeria Plc led the price gainers with N3.02 to close at N228.02 per share. Julius Berger Nigeria Plc trailed with a gain of N1.38 to close at N30.22 per share. UAC of Nigeria Plc followed with a gain of N0.50 to be at N28.50 per share.

 

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